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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Restaurant Review: Tartare

Update:  Tartare has closed. George Morrone, Executive Chef at the restaurant at the time of the below review, is now Executive Chef at Boca -- an Argentinean steakhouse located in Novato, California.

George Morrone is certainly no stranger to those familiar with fine cuisine in the Bay Area.   He first rose to fame in the early 90’s as executive chef at Aqua, where his uniquely creative approach to seafood propelled the restaurant into the upper echelons of San Francisco’s competitive dining market.   He achieved similar success when he subsequently opened Fifth Floor, the signature restaurant in the Hotel Palomar.   At both establishments, Morrone earned the highly coveted four-star rating from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Morrone’s latest venture is Tartare, which will celebrate its one year anniversary in July.   At Tartare, Morrone has carved out a unique niche in the Bay Area’s restaurant scene – serving food that often competes quite well
Chef George Morrone
with that offered by top-tier restaurants, but at prices that compete fairly well with those of upper-midrange restaurants.

The menu, not surprisingly, includes several different tartare appetizers – including beef, ostrich, hamachi, suzuki and ahi.   On each of my visits, however, I have been unable to resist George’s Ahi Tuna Tartare (Taste: 9.5 / Presentation: 7.5) (Ratings Explained).   Just a few bites of this dish, and you will instinctively understand why it became so famous when it was first unveiled at Aqua over a decade ago.   Morrone starts with perfectly-cut miniature cubes of ruby-red ahi, mixes in small bits of pears, chopped mint, and pine nuts, and then tosses the combination in a habanero-infused sesame oil.   After plating, the tartare is topped with a raw quail egg and delivered to the table.   Diners are advised to mix the tartare thoroughly before eating it with accompanying slices of thick, toasted brioche.

The overall flavor is truly outstanding.   The silky smooth tuna contrasts amazingly with the slight crunch of the pine nuts, while the sesame oil, quail egg and pear combine to yield a complex – and yet harmonious – taste sensation.   The infusion of habanero, meanwhile, is at precisely the right level – giving just enough kick to the dish without becoming overbearing.   And the brioche acts as a wonderful accompaniment.
Tartare: At A Glance
ChefGeorge Morrone
Jake Godby
Address550 Washington St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Restaurant Website
  On my first several visits, the tartare was served in a square-shaped bowl having vertical edges – facilitating the task of stirring up the ingredients, and then lifting the tartare onto a fork.   On my recent visit, however, the tartare was mysteriously served in the middle of a flat plate – making these tasks considerably more difficult.   Nevertheless, this is a selection that – barring a serious aversion or allergy to tuna – you simply must order.

Another menu item that must not be missed is the Truffled Foie Gras Pasta (T:10.0 / P:6.5), available in both half- and full-order portions.   Morrone tosses freshly-made fettuccini in a sauce containing butter, cream, truffle and foie gras.   While the combination of just the last two ingredients alone would be enough to create an earthy, rich and utterly heady taste, the butter and cream round things out and make the overall sensation that much more luxurious.   In the end, this dish can only be characterized as pure and unadulterated decadence, one of the few items that I have had anywhere that truly attained perfection in flavor.   The presentation is fine, but it's difficult to do anything particularly impressive in plating a mound of fettuccini.   In sum, the overall message here should hopefully be clear: order this dish!
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Other entrees also fare well, though none reaches the heights of the pasta.   Atlantic Cod “Tom Kha Kai” (T:8.0 / P:5.5) consists of tender pieces of white fish and vegetables, set in a thin layer of flavorful almond-milk broth that covers the surface of the plate.   Although the menu unappetizingly describes the broth as “sour and spicy,” the overall flavor is much more mild – almost akin to coconut milk.   Maine Diver Scallops (T:7.0 / P:7.0) are well cooked with a crisp, brown surface and are served with olive oil, cilantro and garlic.   A small number of Manila clams on the plate, while tasty, seem like a distraction from the rest of the flavors.   Nevertheless, the dish is satisfying.

Desserts are less reliable.   The Toasted Pistachio Souffle (T:5.5 / P:6.5) itself had a good flavor, but the accompanying nectarine and lemon sauces were too overpowering and clashed with each other as well.   A crème anglaise might have worked better.   The Lemon Meringue (T:4.5 / P:5.5) looked fine, but the flavors on the plate – including the interplay between the extra tart lemon and the bland yogurt sorbet on the side – were uninspired.   Only the Chocolate Cake and Bananas Foster (T:8.0 / P:8.0) really shined, with nicely caramelized banana slices, a dense chocolate cake, and an incredible bourbon ice cream harmonizing very well.

The dining room at Tartare is nicely appointed, leaving no trace of the cold and soulless décor that reigned when the site was occupied by the restaurant Elisabeth Daniel.   A large lattice canopy runs the length of the room, with orange hues and glows filling the surroundings.   Other colors in the room are equally warm, giving the space an elegant but cozy feel.   Some of the tables – particularly the two-tops – may be placed a bit too close together.   The small size of the room as a whole, however, may make this unavoidable.

Nearing its one-year mark, Tartare seems to have found a valuable place within San Francisco’s crowded restaurant market.   And while Tartare certainly was not created to become another Fifth Floor or Aqua, George Morrone's talents are clearly once again on display at this unique restaurant.

Food Taste7.57.5

Food Presentation6.5
Number of Visits: 4
Ratings Explained


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved lunch at Tartare! I had the chicken, and it was so juicy.We were invited by Paul, the wine guy, to watch the kitchen, and although it was lunchtime there was only a blonde lady and one other cook doing all of the cooking. It was amazing.

January 13, 2006 7:27 AM  

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